Monday, September 28, 2009

Whirly-Bird Roost

Last January, while visiting the kids and Evie in Colorado Springs, we took a day-trip to Pueblo, CO. Among the activities that day was a stop at the Pueblo Weisbrod Aircraft Museum, next to the airport.

For those who've not been, it's pretty good. A lot of neat stuff is inside a large hangar, with larger vehicles parked outside in an enclosed yard. Among them was this Piasecki H-21 Shawnee. After Piasecki left his namesake company in 1956, it was renamed Vertol. Boeing later acquired Vertol in 1960.

The H-21, also called the "Flying Banana," is one of those funky twin-rotor helicopters. The successful CH-46 Sea Knights and CH-47 Chinooks were further developments of that basic design.

While the H-21 is pretty neat to shoot by itself, this pigeon resting on the aft rotor hub made me laugh. Yes, I know, I'm easily amused, but it tickled my fancy. I liked the idea of a feathered wing resting on a metal wing (the helicopter's blades are essentially rotating wings); the animate at peace with the inanimate. It seemed so...lyric. Especially with the way the bird looked at me in this shot. It's almost like he's saying, "what?"

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Balls Eight

The photo of Scaled Composites' White Knight in one of my previous posts brought to mind the retirement ceremony I attended of the principle NASA launch aircraft for the last several decades. The Boeing NB-52B Stratofortress - affectionately called "Balls Eight" because it's serial number ended in 008 - carried aloft a great multitude of important research vehicles, including the North American X-15, Northrop HL-10 and M2-F2/3, Martin X-24A/B, Rockwell HiMAT and NASA X-38 and X-43 Hyper-X.

The venerable aircraft was retired in a ceremony held at the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center, fittingly on 17 December 2004, the 101st anniversary of the Wright brothers first flight. It entered USAF service in 1955 and was shortly thereafter converted to an X-15 launch vehicle. It dropped it's first X-15 in 1960. By the time of it's retirement, Balls Eight was the longest serving B-52 and had been active nearly half of the history of powered manned flight, a remarkable achievement.

I normally like to shoot aircraft with the sun at my back, but the layout of Balls Eight and the hangar made that too difficult and cluttered. I chose instead to try an artsy shot of the sun just breaking the edge of the nose of the airplane. I was quite happy with the result. It seemed appropriate for the occasion.

Later on I got the opportunity to go inside the airplane. This is the cockpit of Balls Eight. After I took the shot, I sat in the pilot's seat. It was the second time I've been fortunate enough to do that, and as before, I could feel the history around me, it was that palpable. It was a privilege few people get to experience.

Balls Eight is now on display outside of the Edwards AFB North Gate, off HWY 58 between Mojave and Boron.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

High School Eden

Returning to the scene of the Ring Cycle paint-out, one of the things I eluded to in the previous posts was the beauty of the Maranatha High School campus. Here are a couple of photos of the grounds to show what we saw. I'm not sure if it was a central "quad" area or just one of the pathways through the school, but it sure was pretty. I mean, how many campuses have multiple waterfalls and Koi?

All in all, not a bad way to matriculate. I wonder if the students have a hard time concentrating because of the beauty or if they are so jaded by the atmosphere they don't even see it anymore? Judging from the angst in my teenage years, my guess is for the most part, daily life overtakes the scenery. Then again, if you're depressed by grades or classes or teachers or dating, a little serenity might help you get through it all.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A Look Back - SpaceShipOne First Space Flight

As long as we're on the subject of space vehicles, there was one significant space-related event I did manage to witness in person. That was Scaled Composites' first flight into space with their X-Prize entry, SpaceShipOne. The Ansari X-Prize was a contest set up to stimulate private venture expansion into space. The first team that could successfully launch a vehicle to a 100 kilometer altitude (about 60 miles high), land and relaunch within a two week span would win the $10 million prize. On 27 June 2004, Burt Rutan's team at Scaled Composites completed SpaceShipOne's flight test phase by taking the craft to an altitude of 62 miles. They would later win the prize with successful back-to-back flights on 29 September and 4 October 2004. Incidentally, 4 October was the 47th anniversary of the Soviet's launch of the first man-made satellite, Sputnik.

I was fortunate enough to see that June test flight. It was like a giant block party at the Mojave Airport home of Scaled Composites, just down the road from historic Edwards AFB. Thousands of people showed up in the wee hours of the morning to witness the dawn takeoff of the White Knight mothership, with SpaceShipOne hanging from its belly (above photo). After reaching launch altitude, White Knight released SpaceShipOne and the small craft ignited its rocket motor and streaked upwards. Aside from a control glitch which caused the vehicle to corkscrew through several revolutions on its ascent, the flight was deemed a success as it broke 62 miles, the first privately built and sponsored spacecraft to do so. The smooth landing, as seen in the photo below, signaled the start of a grand celebration by all on the ground as we all knew we had seen history made that morning. It was truly glorious!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Discovery - One More Look

Discovery is now back at the Kennedy Space Center, safe and sound. Here then, is one last look at the 747 carrier aircraft as it left Edwards AFB yesterday morning with Discovery on its back. It is difficult to describe the awe one feels as 710,000 lbs of hurtling metal flies past at 185 knots a couple hundred yards from where you're standing. Breathtaking is putting it mildly.

Physics is a wonderful thing. There is no way, you tell yourself, that something that massive can fly; yet fly it does. I'm glad I finally got to see it in person.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Pre-Dawn Flight - NASA 747 and Shuttle Discovery

The twice-delayed take-off of the Space Shuttle Discovery on the back of a NASA 747 occurred in the predawn light this morning at Edwards AFB. I finally got to see it happen, after many years and several futile tries. But it wasn't easy. As can be seen, the sun had yet to break the eastern horizon. In short, it was pretty marginal for photography. The small cadre of media photographers began a running dialog of chatter as we all hurried to set up. "How's 400 look?" "Nope, I'm going to 800." "Sh**! Take it to 1600 and open it up!!" "She's rolling!!!" This shot was taken at ISO 1600 at f/5.6 at 1/100th of a second. Focal length 50mm, AV priority. We were on the edge of the runway and pulling back on the focal length as the 747 flew by at about 185 knots. With the narrow depth of field and moderate shutter speed, sharpness across the whole of the aircraft was not likely.

You can see what I mean in the shot above. The three previous images had severe fuzziness as the 747 roared by. This is in focus in the middle, but fuzzy on the nose and tail. This was at f/4.5 at 1/40th of a second, 30mm focal length, again ISO 1600, AV priority.

This is three frames later. All the specs are the same, except the image is cropped. It's still a bit fuzzy near the wing tips, but everything else is pretty good, all things considered. All in all, I'm fairly happy with the results. I finally got some decent shuttle pictures, despite the conditions.

The 747 turned to the south, then headed east as it began a slow climb to altitude. As it followed the spine of the San Gabriel Mountains on the first leg of its trip to the Kennedy Space Center, the sun finally cleared the horizon and we packed up to leave.

It was a good morning.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Siegfried's Rhine Journey

In the third opera of the Ring Cycle, "Siegfried," the title character is introduced. The son of the ill-fated union of Siegmund and Sieglinde, Siegfried the the pure, if naive hero that awakens Brunhilde from her enchanted spell as she lies asleep, surrounded by the circle of magic fire that was put in place as protection by her father, Wotan. Once awakened, complications ensue for the new lovers.

In this tableau, I can image the hero gazing down upon the Rhine Valley as the music swells in the background. Ironically, I'm listening to orchestral versions of the Ring music right now, including "Siegfried's Rhine Journey." Wagner may have been a wretched human being, but he could write sublime music.

I found this image interesting because of the little inconsistencies in it. The model was ernest and patient, but he looked a bit like a Southern California surfer dude to me. And the "armor" and leather skirt must have been a Roman Centurion costume borrowed from the church Eastern Pageant. The horned helmet was also a bit large, but somehow the model pulled it together with a strong pose and simple dignity. Good job!

This model produced one of my favorite shots from the paint-out. I'm guessing she is the tragic Sieglinde, mother to Siegfried, who died giving birth to the hero. There is a mysterious quality to this girl, and I thought the lighting in the glen was wonderful. In truth she is standing about 10 feet away from the guy portraying Siegfried, so various poses could be contemplated.

You have to love the modern world, however. Underneath that robe she was plugged into her iPod, blissfully listening to whatever it was she was listening to, zoning out with that enigmatic and exotic look that captivated many of the artists there. She was gorgeous.

And finally, here's a shot of Tina working away on a portrait of the model shown in my last post. The picture has undergone a bit of a metamorphisis since the paint-out. It's not done, but it is coming along nicely. I'll let Tina talk about it later when it's done and she posts it on her blog.

Monday, September 14, 2009

A Young Hero - Ring of the Nibelungen

The California Art Club held a Paint-out this past Saturday at the Maranatha High School campus in Pasadena. The event was in conjunction with the L.A. Opera's presentation of Richard Wagner's famous (or infamous) Ring Cycle, the massive tetralogy of Norse/Teutonic mythology. Several art students at the high school were recruited to pose for the artists in various tableaux through out the central walk on the campus. That walk is incredibly beautiful, with birch trees, waterfalls, a stream and a pond with Koi. I never knew high school could look so good!

In any event, this young man was sitting in a pensive pose with a rather cheesy feathered helmet. At least it was not as bad as the horned helmet another student wore (a subject for a later photo). Still, I thought it would make a nice portrait. I could not decide who he was supposed to be: Siegfried or Siegmund. He actually looked like Lohengrin, but that's another Wagnerian opera all together. Perhaps he was different Ring character, but he looked like a hero rather than a supporting member, so I'll call him Siegfried, the tragic and cursed son of the ill-fated brother and sister Siegmund and Sieglinde.

I did mention this was Wagnerian opera, didn't I?

Sunday, September 13, 2009


It's likely most of you don't know what a CRJ-900 looks like, so here's an overall 1/4 front view so you can see it more or less in its entirety. Yes, I know: As Tina would say, "yeah, it's a jet." :-)

I like it.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

CRJ Reflections

Bombardier of Canada is one of the largest producers of small jets used for regional airliners. Northwest Airlines has some, including this CRJ-900 at Denver International Airport last Tuesday. The reflective finish screamed for an artsy close-up, which I happily obliged. Thunderstorms were passing through the area and you can see some of the distorted cloud activity on the fuselage surface. All in all it made for a fun exercise, despite having to shoot through the terminal windows.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Station Fire from the Air

We flew to Colorado Springs this past weekend to visit the kids and Evie. On the way out last Friday morning I took some aerial shots of the massive Station Fire as it raged through the Angeles National Forest. This first picture is looking down toward the western edge of the fire. The 210 Freeway is barely visible on the right side of the image. The smoke in the La Cresenta, La Canada / Flintridge area in the middle and upper left is pretty intense.

As we paralleled the north side of the San Gabriel Mountains heading towards Phoenix, AZ (our stopover destination), we could see a pillar of smoke from the Mt. Wilson vicinity. While not as awesome as the mushroom cloud earlier in the week, this was still impressive nonetheless.

Here's a closer view of the smoke.

The kids said they got some smokiness in the Springs and in Denver, but thundershower activity during the weekend washed most of the particles out of the sky, so we had very nice, fresh air during our stay, and heavy rain one day. It wasn't until our return flight on Tuesday the 8th that we again saw the downwind consequences of the fire. In the photo above, we've just passed over St. George, Utah and the western-most edge of the storm cells when we encountered a distinct layer of smoke. While positively nasty looking from the air, it did not look quite as bad from the ground in Las Vegas. Then again, I was in an air-conditioned terminal and not out breathing the stuff.

As we approached Burbank from the north side of the San Gabriels the fire did not exhibit the towering pillers of smoke that we saw when we left. Obviously the fight was progressing, but as can be seen above, a lot remains to be done. The ridge to the far right, just below the trailing edge of the wing, is Mt Wilson. On my high-resolution image you can pull in and see that the radio and TV antennas are still standing, much to the relief of everyone. Still, the danger level remains high.

All in all, it was a very sobering sight

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

"You Quackin' to Me?!"

Since I seem to be on a water fowl kick this week, I'll close with some duck pictures I shot at the Huntington Library's Chinese Garden on the same day as the egret photos in the first post of this series. This one would make Travis Bickle proud.

The same duck moved out to a patch of lily pads, which made for a very serene image. But a bit later, after the duck had moved on, the light and reflections made the scene even more beautiful. The duck was nice, but this is better, in my opinion.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Morro Bay

We spent the past weekend up in the Central Coast. We did the usual circuit of Paso Robles wine tasting, ribs and art galleries in Cambria, seafood and window shopping in Morro Bay and Italian gourmet in San Luis Obispo. Throw in a Lavender farm in Atascadero and fresh apples in See Canyon and the trip was its usual success.

I did manage some photography along the way. Morro Bay is just very picturesque. Besides the famous rock and sand spit, the bay itself offers a lot of possibilities. The colors reflecting on the water is a prime example. I don't normally shoot abstract images, but water and reflections fascinate me. This image was done standing on the little wharf by the Great American Seafood restaurant at the north end of the Embarcadero. The trace of color from a moored boat and bouy made for a pretty image.

As can be expected, gulls and pelicans were plentiful. This gull managed to catch a small fish as it paddled by. It's always fascinating to see how they manipulate their prey in their beaks as they position it for swallowing. I'm sure the fish wished it was elsewhere.

This last shot was thrown in as an example of how mixing images has its drawbacks. The gull is obviously real and recognizable, whereas the water is colorfully abstract. I though it would be neat to have both in the same frame, but all that happened was the gull was camouflaged enough as to be bearly discernable and the water's effects were lessened by the realism of the bird. Oh, was a nice idea.